SUGDEN: A21ai Series 2 integrated amplifier test review

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Art Dudley writes .....

The Sugden A21ai Series 2 integrated amplifier has a distinctive, overarching strength and a similarly apparent shortcoming: Its warm, sweet, well-textured, downright chunky sound honors certain instruments and styles of music, while its top end is rather thick, opaque, and lacking in "air" compared with most other contemporary perfectionist amplifiers. No two ways about it: You'll admire it or you won't. This amp has a point of view, and it doesn't try to please everyone.

So much for listener matching; even at its best, the Sugden A21ai will require careful system matching as well. Avoid CD players that are themselves lacking in air (I thoroughly admire Naim's CD players, at every price point in their line, but I can't help thinking they'd be poor matches for the Sugden), and tonearms and cartridges that aren't sufficiently extended in the treble. Avoid thick- or dark-sounding speakers in favor of lighter, more open designs (eg, those from Triangle, Mission, Epos, and perhaps even ProAc and Audio Physic). And avoid flammable curtains (just kidding).

Considered as a piece of hardware, the Sugden represents good value for money. That's a far sight truer when one considers its provenance—in which context the Sugden ceases to be a mere thing and takes on much the same value represented by any handmade audio component in this day and age. If not quite an heirloom amplifier in the sense of a Shindo or an Audio Note—two other class-A choices that also eschew audiophile universality in favor of a distinct musical point of view—the Sugden A21ai Series 2 is a solidly designed, solidly built thing that makes recorded music sound wonderful in its own way. Recommended, but for special tastes and systems.

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